A ranking where Oklahoma doesn’t have to be in bottom 10

U.S. Census response is becoming another sign of systematic failure in Oklahoma.

But we don’t have to accept this particular failure.

If you haven’t already, fill out your census now. If you know of a relative who hasn’t done it, encourage them to do so soon. If you thought you missed the deadline, you didn’t. It has been extended for at least one more month because of the pandemic.

If more don’t do it, the loss of federal funds to Oklahoma could be staggering.

Earlier this year, Nan and I received the notice about the legal requirement to fill out our part of the census. I talked with Nan before submitting it online. It was an easy task, about 10 minutes.

I thought nothing further, even ignoring some notices that Oklahoma was lagging in the census.

Then a recent tweet from business broker Ken Ragsdale startled me. The Twitter posting was from a headline in the Enid News & Eagle that stated the following: “Oklahoma in bottom 10 states for Census participation.”

“If more Oklahomans don’t participate … state leaders fear this Bottom 10 ranking will impact nonprofits, tribes, schools and state and federal government for the next decade,” said the story by CNHI Oklahoma reporter Janelle Stecklein.

Not again, I thought.

Josh McGoldwick, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce’s chief of staff, told Stecklein that Oklahoma was 42nd in the country in its response rate. He added Oklahoma will lose $1,675 per person per year in federal funds for the next 10 years for every household that doesn’t complete the census.

I tried to figure out what that might calculate to overall. If Oklahoma’s estimated population is 4 million, that would mean Oklahoma would lose $6.7 billion per year, or $67 billion over the next 10 years.

According to the website 2020census.gov, Oklahoma’s “self-response” rate is at 58.6%, more than five percentage points lower than the national average of 64.1%. Our response rate in 2010 was 62.3%.

That also means that 41.4% of our state’s residents, or more than 1.66 million Oklahomans, still haven’t completed it.

In our immediate region, the response rate ranges from 54.6% in New Mexico to 68% in Kansas. Even Texas has a higher rate at 59.3%. Minnesota leads the country with a 73.2% response rate.

A bottom 10 ranking in Oklahoma is nothing new.

Oklahoma continues to lag in many areas. The state where I was born and I love ranks No. 43 overall and No. 47 in health care, according to World Population Review. CNBC’s “America’s Top States for Business Report” ranked Oklahoma 42nd (eighth worst) in its Quality of Life review that includes factors that include “attractions, health care, quality of the environment, and violent crime rates.” The Casey Foundation’s 2020 Kids Count in child well-being ranks Oklahoma No. 45 overall, with a ranking of No. 48 in education and No. 49 in health. U.S. News and World Report ranks Oklahoma as No. 43, with bottom 10 rankings in health care, education, crime and corrections, and natural environment. Our top ranking in that report: a No. 25 in “Opportunity.”

At least that’s one positive.

But, if you haven’t already, you still have an opportunity to fill out the simple form by going to my2020census.gov. You don’t have to wear a mask to do it either. You can do it in your easy chair.

Oklahoma doesn’t have to be in the bottom 10 in this particular ranking. And this could begin to reverse the other bottom 10 rankings, too.

We have time to reverse this failure.

Joe Hight is director and member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, an editor who led a Pulitzer Prize-winning project, the journalism ethics chair at the University of Central Oklahoma, president/owner of Best of Books, author of “Unnecessary Sorrow” and lead editor of “Our Greatest Journalists.”

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